India has decided to reduce the advance-application requirements for foreign-registered aircraft to enter the country from seven to three business days for landing permits, and from three days to one business day for overflights. The move is a significant breakthrough for business aircraft operators, who have long complained that Indian bureaucracy has undermined the flexibility they seek to deliver.
The change will be confirmed only when the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has made the necessary changes to the country’s civil aviation requirements (CAR). This process is expected to take another two months.
A government official told AIN, on condition of anonymity, that the new CAR will be tried for six months, after which the authorities may opt to abolish the required notice period altogether, at least for some operations. The entire notice period could be waived in three instances: for so-called “frequent flyer” operators that have made at least three flights to India in 365 days; for flights by nonresident Indians based in any of the 192 member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization; or for operators endorsed by an official of the rank of deputy secretary in the Indian government.
The seven-day restriction was imposed 18 years ago because of security concerns after a low-flying private aircraft dropped illegal arms in the Bengal region of eastern India.
“We welcome this decision,” said Rohit Kapur, president of India’s Business Aviation Operators Association (BAOA). The group has spent the past two years advocating the adoption of clearer guidelines on access to Indian airspace and airports for foreign-owned business aircraft.
“We applaud the government of India for the change, which is a true win for business aviation,” said Lex den Herder, vice president for government and industry affairs with flight planning group Universal Weather & Aviation.
Operators have complained that the existing lead times for permits have resulted in canceled operations, which led to business travelers giving up on business aviation and using scheduled airline flights instead. In some cases, claimed den Herder, travelers just abandoned plans to come to India altogether due to the lack of flexibility.
The next steps to allowing business aviation to fulfill its great potential in India would be to streamline customs and immigration formalities and also to improve the tax and regulatory structures for purchasing and operating aircraft. “Planning for infrastructure needs to be done five years in advance and a start must be made now,” said Kapur. “Parking remains a problem at congested Mumbai Airport, [for example]. The makeshift lounges need to give way to FBOs and import duties need a review.”
However, with India’s elections set to take place early next year, an Indian official told AIN that no further changes to the tax structure are likely to be made until the new government is in office. This is because politicians are more focused on measures that will secure large blocks of votes, especially in rural areas. o